The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly decision 70/539 and provides background and recommendations in preparation for the high-level plenary meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants, to be held on 19 September 2016. It is structured in five sections, beginning with a global overview of trends, an analysis of the causes of large movements of refugees and migrants and a discussion of their particular needs en route and upon arrival. Following a short review of related recent initiatives, there is a call for new global commitments to address large movements of refugees and migrants, commencing with recommendations to ensure at all times the human rights, safety and dignity of refugees and migrants, including on addressing the causes of such movements, protecting those who are compelled to undertake such journeys, and preventing the discrimination and countering the xenophobia they frequently encounter. A more predictable and equitable way of responding to large movements of refugees is called for through the adoption of a global compact on responsibility-sharing for refugees, and the elements of a comprehensive response plan for refugees are set out. Lastly, a call is made in the report for strengthening the global governance of migration through the development of a global compact for safe, regular and orderly migration, in a process to be initiated now and realized in the coming years.
Although large movements of refugees and migrants are not a new phenomenon, the images of the past few years have shocked the world’s conscience: rickety boats piled high with people seeking safety; women, men and children drowning in their attempts to escape violence and poverty; fences going up at borders where people used to cross freely; and thousands of girls and boys going missing, many falling prey to criminal groups. Unable to find safe ways to move, people suffer and die in search of safety while crossing the Sahara desert, the Andaman Sea, the Mediterranean and dozens of other dangerous places around the world. Upon arrival, the rights of those who survive these perilous trips are often violated. Many asylum seekers and migrants are detained, and their reception is sometimes far from welcoming. Xenophobic and racist rhetoric seems to be not only on the rise, but also becoming more socially and politically accepted.
Away from the daily headlines and stark images, strains are quietly accumulating on refugees and migrants, as well as on countries and communities that receive them, sometimes for many years. In some refugee situations, a third generation of children has been born in conditions of displacement. Local authorities in all regions are struggling to provide basic services, including places in schools, for large numbers of new arrivals. While pledges for the humanitarian response have reached an all-time high, funding is insufficient to meet ballooning needs. Even in emergency situations, early planning for development requirements and the increased engagement of development actors is sorely needed.
Large movements of people will continue or possibly increase as a result of violent conflict, poverty, inequality, climate change, disasters and environmental degradation. Despite valiant efforts, responses too often have been inadequate. Life-saving assistance has been provided, but there has been an inability to plan for the eventuality of longer-term displacement or to sufficiently support host communities. If one lesson can be drawn from the past few years, it is that individual countries cannot solve these issues on their own. International cooperation and action to address large movements of refugees and migrants must be strengthened. Both national and collective responses must address the reasons people leave their homes, their need for safe passage and protection and both the immediate and long-term needs of those who cross into other countries. In short, all members of the international community must do much better.
Yet there were also signs of hope. More resettlement and humanitarian admission places were offered to refugees in recent years than in the past. New efforts have been undertaken to rescue those at sea. Humanitarian funding has increased, although it is not commensurate with that needed. The generosity of some Member States that continued to welcome new arrivals while already hosting large numbers of refugees year after year has been impressive. There has been an outpouring of support from civil society, and in every region countless individuals have spontaneously welcomed new arrivals, often literally opening the doors of their homes to them.
These positive examples can serve as a basis for strengthened collective action. The refugee and migrant crises around the world are serious, but are not insurmountable if States act together and share responsibility more equitably. The capacity exists to improve the collective response to large movements of people and to address their needs and those of the communities that support them. Effective multilateral responses to large movements have been used in the past. Ways can be found to strengthen international cooperation to ensure safety and dignity in current mass movements. The present report lays out ways to do so. With the necessary political will, the world’s responses to large movements of people can be grounded in shared values of responsibility-sharing, non-discrimination and respect for human rights, while also taking full advantage of the opportunity migration provides to stimulate development and economic growth.
The high-level meeting of the plenary of the General Assembly on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants, to be held on 19 September 2016, represents a unique opportunity to strengthen and implement existing frameworks and develop innovative ways to address large movements of people. Member States must find ways to govern their national borders effectively while protecting the human rights of all refugees and migrants. The causes of displacement and irregular migration need to be addressed. Mechanisms must be developed to respond to future large movements of people more effectively and predictably, and the contributions that refugees and migrants make to host communities must be acknowledged and strengthened.
The risks of inaction are considerable. If this opportunity to reinforce respect for international law, put into place new approaches and strengthen common responses is not seized, there will likely be greater loss of life and heightened tensions among Member States and within communities. More refugees and migrants will perish in transit. Transnational criminal migrant smuggling rings and human trafficking networks will continue to flourish, leading to the exploitation of the vulnerable. The rights and the dignity of millions of fellow human beings will be further diminished if they languish in camps or on the margins of cities without access to basic needs, livelihoods and income opportunities. With millions of children out of school and millions of adults having no possibilities for earning an income, the promise made by the General Assembly one year ago to “leave no one behind” risks becoming a meaningless cliché, with far-reaching consequences.
The high-level plenary meeting on 19 September will be the culmination of several international initiatives in response to global refugee and migrant crises. I hope that the summit will not only galvanize the pledges made at earlier events, but that it will build on those commitments to address the underlying causes and to strengthen the collective responses to large movements of refugees and migrants. The international community and the United Nations are challenged to make the most of this historic moment.